When Dana White first teased a fight between Khamzat Chimaev and Nate Diaz in 2021, it was clearly a bad idea. Chimaev was looking for a chance to move up the welterweight division and looked like a real title contender in the near future. Diaz had been off the charts since the end of 2020, his only welterweight win in recent memory being a scrappy unanimous decision over former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
Once that fight fell apart, the nonsense only became more apparent. Chimaev then pulled off a gutsy win over recent title contender Gilbert Burns. Diaz spent the next year looking for the quickest way out of his UFC contract, with his eyes set on a potential boxing match with Jake Paul once his stint with the world’s biggest MMA promotion was over. Still, it seems Diaz’s dream against Chimaev has lived on for the UFC brass.
Diaz only wanting fights with top, ranked fighters for his final send-off, Chimaev was the first and last name matchmakers had to offer; a fight between a top contender and a man on his way not just to other promotions, but to other sports. Outside of the potential for Chimaev to gain some shine (and money) from Diaz’s seemingly still substantial stardom, this was a fight where both men had more to lose than anything else.
Whatever frictional potential the Chechen-born fighter might have had in beating black belt Cesar Gracie, the practical benefit of a victory was essentially nil. Chimaev had already secured his place as the top contender. Nothing needed to happen for him to keep that placement beyond waiting for Kamaru Usman and Leon Edwards to wrap up their deals this winter.
For Diaz, all the potential gain from this booking was tied to the idea that once it was done and dusted off, he wouldn’t be in the UFC anymore. In the unlikely event that he did pick up a win over Chimaev, it was still highly unlikely that he would be introduced into a welterweight title shot. And with a contract that pays $250,000 per fight with no win bonus, there wasn’t even a monetary incentive driving him to victory.
Essentially, Chimaev entered this fight with only the danger of losing hanging over him. Diaz entered knowing that regardless of his success or failure, the only important thing was what he made happen in the months that followed. Is it any wonder that when asked if the circumstances of the fight made training difficult, Diaz admitted he had already given up?
“Yeah sure,” Diaz replied when asked if it was hard to prepare for a fight he didn’t want to fight. “So I just, damn, gave up prep. That’s right, whatever. Hit me.”
“I think I’ve been stuck in the cage for a long time and I have to do what I have to do to get the f-ck out,” he added. “Whether it’s to fight the toughest guy or whatever you want to do with him or call him, or whoever. I’m like… just ready to rock and roll.
On Friday, it looked like Chimaev had also given up. The 28-year-old showed up to be 7.5 pounds over the welterweight limit, shrugged and told reporters “that’s not bad” as he stepped off the scale. While the UFC blamed his failure on a medical issue, “Borz” reportedly spent the night before weigh-ins hanging out at a restaurant dining with teammates, and spending the hours that followed on Twitter. Whatever was going on behind the scenes, he seemed perfectly content that everyone was going to be left hanging, struggling to keep this PPV card together.
Is this a bad look for both men? Sure. But it’s hard not to blame their lack of professionalism on the UFC as well. They booked a map where the best both athletes could hope for was to tread water; where the value of the fight was not so much in its competitiveness or athletic dynamics as in what might happen to either once the fight was over.
In most cases where athletes find themselves in a no-win scenario, they put their heads down and make the best of it. If the price of the fight cannot serve as a suitable reward, then pride usually takes over. Few people want to be perceived as not having tried to make the best of the situation in which they find themselves.
That’s not most cases, however. Diaz and Chimaev seem fine letting the UFC reap what they sow here.
It could be that everyone will come out of it for the best anyway. That matchmakers can reconfigure last-second deals, that the event can be saved, and that fans always end up with something fun. But if it all falls apart instead, it will be because the UFC tried to make a fight no one wanted or needed between two men who were willing to make it clear they didn’t care.